Confessions of a Copycat……


Have you ever seen an image of a location then try to photograph it in a similar fashion?

Have you ever seen someone else present an image of a location whose composition matches yours by coincidence?

Do you aim primarily to create ‘marketable’ images or enhance your own sense of creativity from photography?

As a result of the above questions, do you actively seek the common viewpoints or go out of your way to avoid them?

As generations pass closer to the end of the alphabet, there seems to be  increasing affordability of DSLR technology, post processing software and ways to share images with the rest of the world. It should therefore come as no surprise that there are many more images of locations both iconic and obscure. There are more images of specific themes such as the milky way over a subject of foreground interest. There are more images which display both tasteful and tasteless HDR style post processing. There are simply more shopping cartfuls of images BUT seemingly at the cost of originality, introspection and quality. Quality is still there but ever so much more diluted which to many, makes the overall experience akin to drinking watered-down fine wine.

An attempt to be more ‘creative’ other than shooting blazing sunsets with a wide angle lens.

As I attempt to honestly answer the questions asked to begin this blog, I should also honestly state my intentions as an amateur landscape photographer. The reason I am doing this , is in protest to many bloggers (some big names included) who love to claim the moral high ground and disclaim any ‘ulterior’ motives. I would also like to present a few images of icons we have photographed with our initial reactions and motivations. First, my intentions (I can’t speak for Marianne):

– As an amateur photographer with a full time ‘day’ job, my opportunities for photography are limited . Hence, any time invested in photography, I try to maximise : both in the experience and the final product. Combining hiking, personal time for reflection and the technical know how to record the places I have been are key elements. If I am visiting a country which I will likely not ever visit again (at least in the near future)  I want to know what the best locations are, I want to know what has been photographed there in the past, I want to know what time of the year will be best suited to my visit. I do not have the luxury of treating the journey as a scouting opportunity nor do I have the  annual leave to allow adequate time to explore locations beyond routes which have been trodden in the past.  I no longer have the liberty nor the extreme adventurous psyche to make holidays with no fixed itinerary , especially with a young child in tow.  In short, I want to see the sights which have impressed me from my research and I am driven by a desire to record those sights in different ways.

I don’t think there are too many shots of this jetty by moonset!

– As a routine user of the internet, I suffer from several afflictions which are common to the generic photo-sharing user. I have a desire for recognition and ‘back-patting’ which is only fuelled further by prior successes. I have the attention span of Guy Pearce’s character from Momento when it comes to viewing the work of others at the end of a long day at my ‘real’ job.  Unless I set aside time to provide thoughtful critique, I am guilty of mashing that ‘like’ /’vote’ /’fave’  button on various sites to show others just how supportive I am of their work.  I do like to share the places I have seen and my interpretation of the world through our cameras and post capture techniques. I have used the word ‘I’ many times in this paragraph which is entirely consistent with the need to support a fragile ego by continuing this practice.

– As someone who does not have to make a living from photography, I fully understand if my attitudes may offend those who do.  I like to think that our images go beyond images of icons and images which have been ‘done before’ but there is a degree of ‘copycatting’ with many of our images and what better example to discuss than our homepage!

Our website is full of the inspiration from other’s work!

Recognising Inspirations:

The top left image is of an usual rock at Robe. After seeing some amazing images from Joel Durbridge (Dub photography on facebook), I asked Joel about this location and managed to find it at the end of Cape Dombey. The conditions were never going to be the same as what he had but that particular rock was  a fascinating subject to photograph. The top right photograph is of Port Willunga jetty which locals have photographed millions of times. I like to think that there are no other images of those poles with that type of water movement during a stormy morning with a rainbow in the background but you never know when the conditions might align again. The bottom left image was inspired by the beautiful wedding work of Paul McCall (PaulMac photography). The backlit bride has been done many a time in the past but his particular work inspired this image. The bottom right image is the only one which I cannot instantly recall an inspiration for but was an image we specifically aimed for having done a scouting trip previously. On the whole, I believe that the photographic community seems reluctant to give credit to those whose work have directly inspired our own. What’s wrong with a shout-out to the person who inspired your image? Thanks Joel & Paul for these particular examples!!

Recognise this icon?

A word on Icons:

A hot topic which currently graces the blog headlines of many photographers is the issue of icons. Before I say another word, I’d like you to answer this question:

“Why is an icon an icon?”

Cradle mountain is one such icon which has been photographed by millions of photographers worldwide. The most common perspective is from Dove Lake and a particular composition in vogue is the one with a certain set of rocks in the foreground. I have visited the location on a few occasions and each time, I have aimed to take at least a few photographs from the northern shores of Dove Lake at the golden hour. Why do I keep doing this instead of searching for other locations? First of all, I know that for non photographic reasons, I am always going to be standing in awe at this location at those times of the day. Secondly, during the day, I actually want to be doing some hiking and not focussing on taking photographs (there are other crazy personal goals to achieve like getting to Marion’s lookout in less than 2o minutes etc). Thirdly, I do want to see  a specific viewpoint of a location with my own eyes even if I don’t end up taking a picture of ‘that’ particularly famous composition.  Lastly, as a photographic challenge, I would love to come away with an image which I believe to be original and not done before.

To answer the question : I believe that icons select themselves as prime locations simply because they are wonderful locations to be. If you are limited for time (or mobility) , visiting the icon may be your ‘best bet’ to maximise your personal experience and photographic outcome. Most beginner or amateur photographers simply aren’t interested in challenging their creativity. They literally want to be there for ‘the shot’ of that location. If you’re reading this and you’re anything like me, I just want a trigger for a memory of the location , I want others to see what I want to them to see of my memory and of  course, the congratulations from others doesn’t hurt either.

Courtesy to the original photographer was due!

Copying or Coincidence?

I realise that there is no copyright on location and the chances of obtaining an image which has the exact same composition, lighting and prevailing weather conditions is slim. It is however, quite clear when another photographer has set out to mimic the exact same composition. This leads to another confession from me. Shortly after Marianne and I made a decision to actively take our photography further in 2008, we travelled around Tasmania to give ourselves an opportunity to test ourselves in the field. We had seen many striking images and of these, Kah Kit Yoong’s image of Horseshoe Falls was one which always sticks in my mind. Being a novice at the time (and still constantly learning now!) I wondered if I was able to photograph scenes in the way which we had seen on other people’s portfolios. We were trying to emulate our unknowing mentors at the time. Somewhat disappointingly, during that trip, we learned just how far we had to progress in order to achieve that same level of creativity and polish with our images. Some time later however, one of my images of Horseshoe Falls was accepted for the cover of Australian Photography Magazine! I immediately thought of Kah Kit Yoong’s original composition and as a courtesy, let him know what had happened. I don’t suppose that email was absolutely required nor is it a sentiment which most replicate.

To answer the question: Coincidences occur but when the act of copying was always the intention (such as in the above example) , my feeling is to swallow any pride, take a bite from that untouched slice of humble pie and at least let your audience know whose original vision your image stems from.

Lake Bumbunga is not often photographed – I hope to see more ‘copies’ of this scene !

In conclusion, I accept that my images are largely versions of scenes which have been recorded by other photographers in the past. I accept that by coincidence or by meticulous planning, someone else has ‘been there and done that’.  I accept that my ‘professional development’ as a photographer is driven by striving toward a standard set by my unknowing idols. By doing so, creativity is often not the aim of the exercise and  the photographic result is another image of that same viewpoint of that same icon. What I do not readily accept is those who vehemently deny ever having used emulation as a form of self development. And lastly, don’t forget that landscape photography is not all about the photography. There is that first word ‘landscape’ to appreciate by your mere presence 😉

-D

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Posted on August 28, 2012, in How we..., Photography, Random Musings, South Australia, Tasmania and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. Usually I hate copying others’ photos and hate when others are copying mine. But never say never. I’m guilty as well. I copied place and style once – photo of one of our Aussie photog just because I was truly impressed by beauty of his photo. Do I need to say I do not like my photo? Probably yes. 🙂 Have I learnt something from that? Yes! Two things: 1. a technique; 2. never copy a photo for the sake of reproducing the same photo.

    • I think we’re all ‘guilty’ to an extent. I agree with your point 2 very much so too 🙂 Fancy booking overseas flights and walking miles all for that one reason ! I think there are that some who enjoy doing that, but that’s not for me thanks!

  2. Well said Dylan. An issue as a (very) fledgling photographer that I have pondered on many occasion. You may recall a recent message to you attempting to find suitable locations in Tasmania (given my limited time and yes, that normal ‘day job’) which implies I wanted to replicate what you and others have shot. It doesn’t mean I didn’t try to find other things to shoot – but we all require a level of inspiration – you are one source for me, and so it filters down. Think how many rock stars cite other artists for their inspiration.

    It reminds me of a post on my site which covers this very topic. Worth a read: http://jlphotocreative.com/copy-transform-combine/

    Regards

    Jon

    • Jon, just to reiterate, I have no issue at all divulging details of images and how they were taken. I just like to think that we’re all open minded enough to accept that that’s a common practice and only one of the many motivations for heading to these special iconic locations 😉

  3. Great blog Dylan. I have often pondered these questions myself. Being an amateur photographer in Brisbane and having loads of other awesome photographers living here also, we all seem to photograph the same things but all with different conditions. It frustrates me when certain photographs seem to think they were the first one to photograph that particular scene. Or that you have looked at there work and blatantly copied which was never the case. So well said!

    I also want to know when you get to Marions lookout in 20 minutes. I almost died getting up there after an hour and a half! Was completely worth it though and has spawned my love of hiking!

  4. Rodtrenchard@hotmail.com

    Ha what a fitting post considering I was about to msg you and ask if you could recommend locations in New Zealand

    • lol, I don’t have an issue with letting people know about the locations I visit, or even how I obtained images – after all, it’s a great way to learn. My main issue is those who deny the existence of this practice !

      • Rodtrenchard@hotmail.com

        Oh it happens more often then not . The thing is how many good compersistions of the one subject can there be ? Sooner or later we are going to start to “double up ” and with that in mind I think a lot of landscape photogs need to ” get over themselves” in the sense that some times with some photogs ( not yourself) they can carry on like like there the only one in the world . I have found a lot to be slightly arrogant to say the lest. Dylan you may not now that I’m a pro wedding photog and I shoot about 20 a year for a great local studio . I have found wedding and portrait photogs to be much more willing to help , offer advice ,even offer great locations then landscape photogs. Of course this is a huge generalisation in is no means directed at anyone in particular and least of all you …. But dose make Me wonder why we as landscape photogs can develop this attitude that we are better then another photog or above helping someone.?

        I’m sure my comment will cause some disagreement but its just my pov.

      • haha – yea , I have come across many a landscape ‘tog who will refuse to divulge super secret location. I think the reason for refusal to help might sometimes be due to insecurity – afraid that the next shot of that location will be better. Who knows! I’ll keep asking and I’ll keep answering (when I can).

  5. Hey Dylan! Thanks for a good read! I strongly agree with what you are saying here. Having a demanding full time job does not help and I find that Likes and +1s and 1 word comments just don’t cut it anymore. Hence I get disappointed and feel like I don’t get as appreciated as I should be.
    But that being said, with the copying vs creative part I have not tried to imitate any composition etc on purpose yet. Sure there are photos that inspire me when I research for the location but when I’m out on the field I just go with what I feel like taking and don’t think of what has been done there before. Sure there’s coincidence with composition etc but I want it to be MY interpretation rather than a copycat version.
    Anyways I’m turning this into an essay do I’ll stop here. 🙂

  6. Nice blog, appreciate the honesty here. I’m even worse in that I really don’t enjoy travelling or hiking, so my photography is limited to places that don’t involve too much of either! But for the places I do go to I try and get my own take on them rather than copying other people’s shots. It’s not always possible though, some places are limited in terms of composition so you end up with the ‘classic’ shot and hope that the lighting is different enough.

  7. Thanks for sharing your thoughts you are an inspiration

  8. I am Happy to admit that most of my images are copies of other people’s work how ever not all of them. I would like to think that others have copied me too and to be honest I am happy for that to happen; it feels like a compliment. Thank you Dylan you are one of my unknowing mentors.

    • Lol thanks Peter – it’s probably too much to recognise every mentor out there – I’d be crediting all of flickr for every time I go on a trip overseas! I think the credit is mainly due when something big happens to that image (aka the horseshoe falls one)

  9. I enjoyed reading your blog post – it resonated with me a lot. I look forward to following more of your work and thoughts.

  10. Great blog post! Really enjoyed reading this!

  11. An enjoyable read Dylan. I started my DSLR journey in Tasmania as well. I was looking through my January 2009 shots from that trip and searched for some of the same spots on Flickr, and found that you were at a lot of the same spots only a couple of months before that, like at D’Alton Falls. 🙂

  12. Hi there, I remember getting that email and appreciated your effort. Although I wouldn’t say that our images are all that similar. I’ve seen many blatant attempts to copy photographers who I know and also my own work. I’ll say this though, how often does the copier come up with a better version than the original? Almost never in my experience.

  13. That was enjoyable read, I like your honesty and I think its attitude of most amatuer photographers for the reasons you mention about maximizing your opportunities. But I do think that expanding your creativity can be undertaken locally when you can visit the same locations many times with idea to try new things.

  14. I enjoy the style of your post a lot! It is real and rough and just rings true. And I mean rough in a positive light. I am 61, and my children are now out of the house (finally). But I still work, and can relate to your need to maximize your photographic opportunities when on vacation (or on holiday as many in the world say).

    As most of us have done, I have spent a lot of time in the field this year with my camera equipment. And there have been both planned trips and spur of the moment trips. But I intentionally do not research the best spots and vantage points. That is because the discovery aspect of exploration is so important to me. If I “discover” a location and vantage point, that photograph, then taken, I feel is an original, regardless of whether a million others found it before me.

    But that doesn’t mean I am doing anything better or worse than someone who researches the best spots. It just means I personally am more satisfied with my process of discovery.

    There is no right or wrong way. No high ground or low ground in my view. It should flatter a photographer to know others might want to emulate their choice of vantage points and photographic style. And in the future I may want to do that too. The word “Copycat” has huge negatives, primarily due to the way we derided others when we were kids. As adults, it should mean something else entirely.

    Keep shooting, and know it is a real pleasure to see your quality work and read your written thoughts.

    • Thanks for your thoughts john 😉 we’re about to embark on a week long trip to a part of our state we have not yet been to and have done very little research due to child caring commitments! This should be an interesting one photographically hehe

  15. I totally agree with your topics and standpoints. Well written and you react well to the crazy criticism and pathetic verbal lashings that some feel they are entitled to hand out to those “mere mortals” of the photography world, or even those who are their peers.

    In thinking further and reading some of the comments as well, I feel that there is a little too much preoccupation for some with “copying” all together. As you pointed out, many “iconic” locations are visited and accessed by millions the world over, on an annual basis. No one person “owns” a particular location or viewpoint that looks over it, or style of image that captures it, even if it is in a more remote or secluded location. Some may explore a new technique or vantage point to create their own images of famous or beautiful locations, and much kudos to them for doing so, but to suggest that once they have done that, that no one shall follow them in making a similar image, is preposterous beyond logical understanding.

    In saying this, again there is nothing wrong with passing along or acknowledging appreciation for inspiration that may come from other photographers, especially if you gain much success from the image, as we all love to be recognized for our work. However, to have to kiss hands or take abuse from another who may have created a similar image prior to yours that might have been less successful, well, they can sit on it!

    Massively inspired and touched by your folio of world class imagery, and your progression as artists over a few short years. I found you on 500px in popular today, and through this I have seen your website, your blog and its many stories, and discovered zenfolio (ohhh marketing!!) Keep up the astonishing output and fun adventures, you will impact and inspire many lives in the years ahead. Huge congratulations on the fruits of your labour!!

    • Thanks very much from your comments Tristan. Later this year we will be visiting the Pacific Northwest and having seen many of the amazing images from there, the case of ‘copying’ compositions is very likely to occur whether it be by accident or intention. Some famous compositions of scenes are that way for a reason! There might be alot of non landscapes posted this year too as we have embarked on a ‘project 52’ to keep us shooting 🙂

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